One of the most talked-about sales at last month’s Geneva auction season was Passion for Time at Christie’s, the dispersal of a collection belonging to Mohammed Zaman, an Omani businessman. The auction started almost an hour late with new estimates revised upwards, and majority of the lots sold to a third-party guarantor at the new low estimates. The guarantees and new estimates were announced by the auctioneer just before the start of the sale, as they should be, though it did little to dispel the confusion in the room.
The proceedings immediately set off a frenzy online, some of it alleging misdeeds on the part of Christie’s. Most of it was unschooled speculation. Perhaps swayed by this, Mr Zaman quickly filed a lawsuit against Christie’s, leading to the watches being frozen.
Two weeks on, the lawsuit has been withdrawn and Mr Zaman has resolved his dispute with Christie’s – a shrewd move in my opinion because he did well out of the sale. The 113 lots belonging to Mr Zaman achieved just under CHF38 million including fees – a result worthy of a standing ovation in the current market. Proof of the sale’s success was found two weeks later at the Hong Kong sales where prices were notably weaker than the results at Passion for Time, a testimony to the current market.
All’s well that ends well
According to people familiar with the situation, the third-party guarantor for Passion of Time was the same entity that guaranteed the collection of former Ferrari chief executive Jean Todt that Christie’s sold last year. Given prevailing sentiment, it would seem the guarantor underwrote Mr Zaman’s watches at prices higher than current valuations, but the guarantor is a professional investment institution, so it probably knows what it’s doing.
According to Christie’s head of watch for Europe, Remi Guillemin, the guarantee agreement was inked at the last minute, literally before the sale, explaining the delayed start to the auction. The badly handled opening and subsequent confusion is the only aspect of the sale that can be justifiably criticised.
Christie’s did right where it really mattered – achieving the best value for the client. In fact, Christie’s arguably did even better than that considering the market. It could have just let the sale proceed without a guarantee, and it is likely many of the lots would have sold for less – look at the Hong Kong sales for an indicator of where things are.
Mr Zaman might have been expecting more. Maybe he felt the third-party guarantee shortchanged him since the guarantees limited the bidding action, with most lots selling for the revised low estimates. And according to people familiar with the situation, he was told by managers at Christie’s that his collection might achieve more than what it eventually did.
Even with that being the case, a knowledgeable and collector like Mr Zaman – he has collected watches for four decades – has presumably studied the market, particularly over the last six months. It’s possible he was swayed by the speculation online in the wake of the auction, but I think it wise he settled with Christie’s and cashed the cheque.
If I were fortunate enough to own such a collection and sell it at Christie’s in Geneva, I would certainly hope the able Mr Guillemin and his team do as well for me as they did for Mr Zaman.
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